Understanding Some Muslim Misunderstandings
By Dr. Ernest Hahn
Islam is a post-Christian religion. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was in contact with Jews and Christians. The Qur’an, the holy Book of Islam, frequently refers to the holy Books of the Jews and Christians: the Tawrat (Torah, Pentateuch), the Zabur (Psalms) and the Injil (Evangel, Gospel, New Testament) given by God through Moses, David and Jesus respectively. It calls Jews and Christians "the People of the Book" because of their holy Books. It contains many references to Biblical events and Biblical characters, including several prophets and Jesus the Messiah.
Many Muslims view the Qur’an and Islam as the continuation, correction and culmination of the previous religions and their holy Books. They believe that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets and that the Qur’an is the final revelation of all God's revelations to mankind. In their opinion all previous prophets and holy Books have proclaimed essentially the same message as the Qur’an.
However, when Muslims and Christians read the Bible and the Qur’an, it is evident to both communities that vital differences, as well as similarities, exist between these Scriptures. The differences, Muslims feel, are innovations and corruptions introduced by Christians and Jews into the Bible during the course of history. These innovations and corruptions, Muslims would say, do not belong to the original holy Books which the prophets received from God. Thus, they conclude, the Qur’an also corrects the Bible where it had become corrupted.
Moreover, some Muslims would add, Jews and Christians wrongly interpret portions of their Scriptures which, Muslims feel, refer to Muhammad as God's final messenger and to the Qur’an as God's final message for mankind.
In the light of such claims our purpose here is twofold: 1. to outline briefly some of the teachings of the New Testament especially, which Muslims view as innovations, corruptions and false interpretations; 2. to suggest some possible responses to Muslims who hold these views.
Are the title words "Muslim Misunderstandings" unfair? Our intention is not to insult and hurt Muslims. We contend only that some Muslims hold serious misunderstandings about the Bible and its central message, and we deem it our obligation to Muslims to free them from these misunderstandings wherever they exist. It is hoped, therefore, that this presentation of both Muslim and Christian points of view, despite its brevity, is accurate and fair. Need we add that Christians too should understand their misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims? Given this purpose and realization, may we invite Christians to share this presentation with their Muslim friends and acquaintances?
1. Christians Worship Several Gods
It is true that the Qur’an frequently recognizes that Jews and Christians worship one God. Some Muslims also recognize that Jews and Christians worship one God. Yet some verses in the Qur’an also suggest that Christians are worshippers of more than one God, or of Jesus the Messiah in the place of God:
They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three. (M.M. Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, 5:73)
And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? (5:116)
They indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. (5:17)
When, as some Muslims think, Christians believe in three gods or associate another god with God or substitute someone or something for God, they become idolaters and polytheists. To associate anything or anyone with God is the supreme and unforgivable sin, according to the Qur’an.
In fact, many Muslims view Christians as tritheists rather than as trinitarians, worshippers of three gods: God, Mary and Jesus (or God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit). Do not 1 + 1 + 1 = 3? How can Christians calculate that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? Thus Christians appear to Muslims to contradict the cardinal belief in Islam that God is one, that there is no god except God.
Early in the course of religious discussion the Christian will assure his Muslim friend that the Bible testifies that God is one and that He alone is worthy of worship. Here are examples from the Torah and the Gospel:
I am the Lord your God. ... You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)
The Lord our God, the Lord is one ... (Mark 12:29)
Nowhere does the Bible suggest that God "is the third of three" or that Jesus and Mary are two gods beside God. Nor does it suggest that Christians displace God by the man Jesus the Messiah, or turn the Messiah into God. (This point will become clearer in part 2.)
Yet, as all Muslims will agree, the living God is greater than the figure 1; neither Muslim nor Christian desires to equate God with the figure 1 or to associate the figure 1 with God. If Muslims insist that Christians reduce the Godhead to a false mathematical formula (i.e., 1 + 1 + 1 = 1), how much is 1 x 1 x 1? God is more than the figure 1 or any number, as any one person is more than the figure 1 or any number. Or if Muslims insist that it is enough to confess that God is one, then are we to conclude that one is God? Surely God is one (in the sense that He alone is God) and at the same time more than one (in the sense that one is not God!)
Thus the Bible says:
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. (James 2:19)
The demons believe that God is one. Does that help them to obey God? Indeed, to be true servants of God we must confess that God is one, that God alone is God. Yet more, we must understand who God is, what He graciously has done for us, and what He expects us to be and to do in service to Him. Both Muslims and Christians must know what the one God wills to reveal about Himself and what their relationship with Him is and should be. How else can we know He is our Saviour from sin and death?
2. God Is Not Father and Jesus Is Not the Son of God
Related to the Muslim affirmation that God is one is the Muslim denial that God is Father and that Jesus is the Son of God. The Qur’an says:
The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort ... ? (6:102)
And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah … How perverse are they! (9:30)
It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. ... (19:35)
Say: He is Allah, the One!
Allah, the eternally besought of all!
He begetteth not nor was begotten.
And there is none comparable unto Him. (112:1-4)
From the above and other Quranic passages, many Muslims conclude that Christian belief in the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Jesus rests on the belief that God has a consort. Apart from a woman how else can one beget a son and become a father!
Christians fully agree with Muslims that God has no son through a consort. On the other hand, is it not possible to speak of the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Jesus in another sense? At least some Muslims accept that these ideas are not totally alien to Islam: Thus some Muslim mystics (Sufis) speak about God as Father and about people as His children.
Moreover, Muslims are generally aware that "fatherhood" and "sonship" are used in various ways: Mahatma Gandhi is called the father of the Indian nation and Muhammad Ali Jinnah is called the father of Pakistan. All people of a nation are the children of their motherland. An evil person may be called "a son of Satan", apart from any thought of Satan having a wife! The Qur’an calls a traveller "the son of the path" (ibnu’s-sabil) and the heavenly Book "the mother of the book" (ummu’l-kitab), that is, the Qur’an is the exact reproduction of this heavenly Book.
The Bible repeatedly speaks of God as Heavenly Father. God is Father in a spiritual sense. His Fatherhood does not begin with Mary and Jesus; He is eternally Heavenly Father. His name "Heavenly Father" identifies His relationship with His creatures, or what He wishes this relationship to become. It is, so to speak, the sum and substance of all His other names, the most beautiful of all His beautiful names.
Likewise the Bible frequently speaks of Jesus' Sonship in a unique sense. The Heavenly Father calls Jesus "His Son”:
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)
Jesus calls Himself "the Son of God":
Again the High Priest asked Him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And Jesus said, "I am ..." (Mark 14:61-62)
Christians of later times did not invent this title. They did not decide to turn a man and a prophet, Jesus, into a son of God or a god in the place of the living God or alongside the living God. Nor did all Christians at some particular point in history decide to corrupt the Gospel by incorporating the term "Son of God" for Jesus into those passages of the Gospel wherever this term now exists. The Son of God’s existence does not begin with Mary. He is eternally the Son of God. Through Mary the eternal Son of God becomes the man Jesus, the Messiah.
But how to convey the meaning of Jesus' Sonship in an intelligible manner to Muslims? Perhaps by understanding the relation of God's Word to God, we can better understand the relation of Jesus as Son to His Father within the unity of God. Both Christians and Muslims agree that God is eternal and that God's Word is eternal. Yet by this, though both distinguish between these two eternals, they do not mean that there are two gods, for God is one. Moreover, both Muslims and Christians agree that God bridges the gulf between the infinite and finite by revealing His eternal Word to His finite creation. But where, in their understanding, do the infinite and finite meet? Wherein lies the conjunction of God's eternal Word and His temporal creation so that God's eternal Word becomes intelligible revelation for finite mankind?
For Muslims God expresses His eternal Word within His created world through the Book called the Qur’an. Hence most Muslims call the Qur’an the eternal Word of God. For them the eternal Word resides both eternally within the being of God and within the pages of the Qur’an at a particular place and time. The eternal Word of God, eternally within God, becomes related to Arabic words written on pages of a book or "inscribed" upon the hearts and minds of people who utter it from their mouths. Thus for Muslims the infinite and the finite meet within the Arabic Qur’an, initially revealed to Muhammad almost fourteen centuries ago.
For Christians God expresses His eternal Word within His created world through a person called Jesus. Hence the Bible speaks about the eternal Word of God becoming flesh, the man Jesus. For Christians Jesus is the infinite God's expression of Himself at a particular place and time in our finite world. In Jesus the infinite Word of God mingles with finite flesh. As Jesus is called the eternal Word of God, so He is called the Son of God. Before the eternal Word or Son becomes the man Jesus (and before Mary was!), the Word or Son is, residing eternally in the being of God. The idea that God has a consort and through a consort a son is as alien to the Bible as to the Qur’an. Thus according to the Bible:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:1-3, 14)
Thus Jesus says:
"He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)
Indeed both Muslims and Christians rightly insist that Jesus is a man, a servant, and a prophet of God, who receives and proclaims God's message. But, in Christian confession, Jesus, as God's Word and Son, is at the same time more than a prophet who mediates God's message. He Himself is God's message. For Muslims is not the Qur’an a book and yet, as God's divine Word, more than a book?
Christians and Muslims may continue to differ with regard to the nature of God and His Word, and with regard to His mode of revealing His Word to mankind. Yet, in the light of the above explanation, some Muslims have discovered the Christian understanding of the relation of Jesus, as God's Word and Son, to God to be neither idolatrous nor a mathematical mystery. Does the Quranic recognition of Jesus as God's Word ease their difficulty?
For Christians God's manifestation of His eternal Word in Jesus was motivated by His love for a spiritually sick mankind. He was not satisfied to send only a written message, or even a personal representative (human or angelic) in His place, He chose to be present Himself as their personal physician in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Is such a personal visitation too great — or too demeaning — for God, who is most great because He is most holy and loving? Would to God we would all take God’s uniqueness and greatness seriously!
According to the Bible the Holy Spirit is neither an angel nor any created being. The Holy Spirit is God's Holy Spirit and of God, as God's Word is of God. He speaks God's promises and judgements through the prophets. Through the power of God’s eternal Holy Spirit God's eternal Word became flesh, born of the virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit is present with the disciples of Jesus, especially after Pentecost. He uses the message of Jesus to empower the hearts and lives of people to turn from serving Satan and self to serving God and their neighbours. Through the Holy Spirit the believer truly trusts in God as his Saviour, not in himself or in his works. Through the Holy Spirit the believer becomes, like Abraham, the friend of God, and dares to call God "Father" as God's child.
Thus God reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For this reason Christians speak of God as Trinity or Tri-unity, plurality within unity, threeness within oneness, existing and working together as one God in perfect harmony and unity. When they confess God as Trinity, they are confessing, not contradicting, that God alone is God and that He has no associates.
It is true that the word "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible. Nevertheless, it does summarize God's revelation of Himself as it is recorded in the apostolic writings of the Bible. If it is nothing but a metaphysical puzzle, as some Muslims contend, what then is the traditional and orthodox Muslim doctrine of the Unity of God, defined in terms of the relation of God's eternal attributes to each other and to God's eternal essence? How does a plurality of eternal attributes subsist within God’s eternal essence, as traditional orthodox Islamic creeds affirm? Are those Muslims aware of the Muslim community’s seriously conflicting definitions regarding the nature of God’s unity?
All this, however, does not suggest that Christians pretend to understand the fullness of God. How little we understand ourselves, not to speak of understanding God! Yet how wonderful to know with certainty how much He loves us, wants to forgive us and clean our hearts, our minds and our tongues and make us His children!
3. Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross
Muslims generally deny that Jesus died on the cross on the basis of the following Quranic verses:
And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, Allah's messenger — They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them, and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture: they slew him not for certain, but Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise. (4:157-158)
These verses contradict not only the claim of the Jews to have crucified and killed Jesus (yet surely not to have killed their Messiah!) but also the vital Christian confession that Jesus died on the cross. Other Quranic references to the death and resurrection of Jesus are projected into the future: Jesus did not die on the cross; He was taken into heaven, will come again, die and rise.
What happened at the crucifixion scene? Muslims differ among themselves. Some Muslims say that the Jews really crucified another person whom God made to look like Jesus — it may have been Judas Iscariot, Simon of Cyrene or a Roman. Other commentators, hesitant for ethical reasons about substituting someone on the cross for Jesus, avoid the issue. Members of the Ahmadiyya movement (considered by most Muslims to be infidels) contend that Jesus swooned and was later revived. God, Muslims might add, would not allow Jesus, His faithful prophet and servant, to die the shameful death of the cross.
Thus Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross. One can appreciate the difficulties Muslims may have in understanding the fact and significance of the Sonship of Jesus or the Trinity. These confessions, though firmly rooted in the Bible, are still matters of faith. But the death of Jesus on the cross, apart from its theological significance, is a fact of history acknowledged by virtually all people of all faiths and of no faith — except, strangely, by Muslims.
Any fair reading of the New Testament reveals that the death and the resurrection of the Messiah are central to the New Testament message. Major portions of the Gospel accounts are dedicated to these events. Jesus Himself continually predicts these events. He sees them already foreshadowed in the Old Testament. His teachings and works point to them, in fact depend upon them.
He reprimands His disciples for failing to understand that as the Messiah He must suffer, die and rise from the dead. Later chastened Peter proclaims them, as reported in the early chapters of Acts, to be the heart of Jesus' ministry. Paul, following Jesus and Peter, declares as of first importance that "Christ died for our sins ... that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day ..." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Likewise the writings of the early Church Fathers and the Christian ecumenical creeds focus upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. From the beginning of the Church, disciples of Jesus have celebrated the Last Supper in remembrance of these events.
Jesus escapes, says the Muslim. But if God's sovereignty is preserved by Jesus' escape, how is it that the Qur’an elsewhere asks the Jews why they killed previous prophets and apostles (Qur’an 4:155; 5:70)? If Jesus escapes, does He then escape a destiny which He Himself predicted? If He does not die, how can He be like the grain of wheat which bears fruit only when it dies (John 12:24)? Does the Messiah, who teaches us to love unto death, Himself escape death (John 15:13)? As the New Testament understands the matter, Jesus' islam, that is, His submission to His Heavenly Father in life and in death, is the perfect example of islam. He drinks the cup of suffering and death according to the Heavenly Father's will. He is the Good Shepherd because He is the Lamb of God, God's sacrifice for sinful mankind. (John 10:1-18; John 1:29)
According to the Qur’an God has sent prophets with messages of guidance for every nation. Of prime importance is the message of guidance, for it is God's Word; the prophet is simply a mediator or a channel of the message. On the other hand, the New Testament clearly indicates that Jesus the Messiah Himself is God's Word. As God's living message He not only guides but redeems mankind. That is why the New Testament uniquely focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus. These two events alone give meaning to Jesus' life on earth and His Second Coming.
According to the Qur’an God has written mercy upon Himself (6:12). Were a Christian allowed to translate this beautiful Quranic statement into New Testament language, would he not suggest that the redeeming Messiah is God's expression in this world of His divine Word of mercy eternally inscribed upon Himself? For "God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), even as God had spoken centuries before through His prophet Isaiah:
... He (the Messiah) was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
In language more familiar to Muslims, could we say that God ransomed us through His Messiah, His mighty sacrifice (cf. Qur’an 37:107)? He died so that we may live! Praise God!
4. Jews and Christians Have Changed Their Scriptures
In the Introduction we have already noted the opinion of many Muslims that Jews and Christians no longer possess the Scriptures originally given them by God or accurate copies of them. Muslim responses to the Bible usually take the form of one or a combination of the following claims: 1. The Scriptures previous to the Qur’an have become textually corrupted; 2. The Scriptures previous to the Qur’an have been abrogated by the Qur’an; 3. The Injil (Gospel) was taken into heaven with Jesus at the time of his ascent.
Muslims frequently assert that such claims are made on the basis of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an Jesus is taught the Gospel; at best the four Gospel accounts now available are unreliable Christian traditions, at times even contradictory. That these Gospel accounts call Jesus "the Son of God" and speak of His death on the cross is evidence of their unreliability, the Muslim may continue.
It is true that the Qur’an states that Jesus was taught the Gospel. On the other hand, the Qur’an does not teach that previous Scriptures with Jews and Christians are textually unreliable or have been abrogated or that the original Gospel was taken into heaven. In fact the Qur’an supports the existence, availability, integrity and universal significance of these Scriptures. It enjoins belief in these Scriptures upon all and even claims that the Qur’an confirms these Scriptures. Thus the Qur’an addresses Jews and Christians:
Say: O People of the Scripture! Ye have naught (of guidance) till ye observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord ... (5:68)
The Qur’an addresses the Children of Israel:
... And believe in that which I reveal, confirming that which ye possess already (of the Scriptures) ... Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? And ye are readers of the Scriptures! ... (2:41-44)
The Qur’an states that the Scriptures are with the Jews and Christians, that they read them and should observe them. These uncorrupted and unabrogated Scriptures the Qur’an claims to confirm. If the Scriptures with the Jews and Christians are corrupted, does the Qur’an confirm corrupted Scriptures?
In fact, if Muhammad himself is in doubt, the Qur’an tells him to appeal to Jews and Christians, and to their Scriptures:
And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We (God) reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. ... (10:94)
Further, how can these claims be made against the Jews and Christians when the Qur’an addresses Muhammad:
How come they (the Jews) unto thee for judgement when they have the Torah, wherein Allah hath delivered judgement (for them)? Yet even after that they turn away. Such (folk) are not believers. (5:43)
Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. (5:47)
No doubt, this Quranic evidence has deterred some Muslims from making the above claims against the integrity of the Bible available with Jews and Christians. On the other hand, can those Muslims who do make such claims avoid this Quranic evidence which conflicts with their claims? How can the Qur’an appeal to the Jews and Christians contemporary with Muhammad to judge according to the Torah and the Gospel, if these Scriptures are corrupted, abrogated or non-existent? How can the Qur’an state that Jews and Christians contemporary with Muhammad are readers of these Scriptures if they are false Scriptures? In brief, if Muslims question the integrity of the Bible on the basis of Quranic evidence, at least until the time of Muhammad, does it not follow that they question the integrity of the Qur’an, and may even imply that the Qur’an is corrupted?
For many Muslims the Traditions (Hadith) record the inspired words and actions of their prophet Muhammad. Sufficient evidence is available within recognized collections of the Traditions to show that the Traditions are consistent with the Qur’an in upholding the integrity of the Scriptures present with Jews and Christians. Since the Traditions reflect not only the words and works of Muhammad and his companions but also the thought of the following generations up to the time of the Tradition collectors, one may conclude that only considerably after the time of Muhammad did some Muslims begin to assert that the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians had been previously corrupted, abrogated or taken into heaven.
Hitherto many Muslims have contended that since Jesus is the recipient of the Gospel, the four Gospel accounts now available with Christians cannot be the true Gospel. But within the past century some Muslims have hailed the Gospel of Barnabas to be the true Gospel, apparently ignoring or forgetting the previous Muslim argument against the genuineness of the four Gospel accounts. The Gospel of Barnabas incorporates a number of the normal Muslim allegations: Jesus is not the Son of God; Judas Iscariot, not Jesus, dies on the cross; Jesus prophesies the coming of Muhammad; etc. Such assertions, sadly, suffice to guarantee the genuineness of this Gospel account for some Muslims.
The only known existing text of the Gospel of Barnabas is in Italian, in manuscript form in the Vienna Library. This text was edited and translated into English by Laura and Lonsdale Ragg, and published in Italian and in English in 1907. Since then Muslims have translated this work in Arabic, Urdu and other languages.
All external and internal evidence indicates that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery of European origin, dating from about the fourteenth century or later. The author simply utilizes materials from the Biblical Gospel accounts, omitting and altering according to his convenience. But apart from this and other geographical and historical errors, one example from this work will indicate that he contradicts not only the Gospel but the Qur’an:
The priest answered: "... I pray thee tell us the truth, art thou the Messiah of God whom we expect?" Jesus answered: "... indeed I am not he for he is made before me, and shall come after me." (L. and L. Ragg, Section 96)
According to the Gospel of Barnabas Jesus is not the Messiah. This statement contradicts both the Bible and the Qur’an, since in both books Jesus alone is the Messiah. Yet the Gospel of Barnabas compounds the difficulty by speaking of Jesus as Christ. It appears that "Barnabas" is not aware that "Christ" is the Greek translation of the Hebrew "Messiah". Thank God, not all Muslims accept the Gospel of Barnabas as a genuine Gospel account!
According to the Bible there is only one Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. He Himself is the Gospel. The four Gospel accounts in the Bible are four accounts of one and the same Gospel. Thus the account of Jesus' apostle, Matthew, is really the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah according to Matthew. Is it significant that according to the Qur’an (5:111) God inspired Jesus' disciples to believe in Him and Jesus?
A multitude of ancient manuscripts of the Bible in its original languages and in translations, manuscripts long antedating the era of Islam, abundantly testify to the preservation and integrity of the Biblical text. There is no doubt that the ancient ecumenical Christian creeds accurately reflect the substance of the Bible in regard to the person and ministry of Jesus also: Jesus Christ, God's only Son. ... He was crucified, died and buried; on the third day He rose again from the dead. ...
Certainly we Christians should be concerned with the integrity and defence of the Bible, whether in its original Hebrew and Greek or in translation. Yet it should not be our intention to engage in "a battle of the books" with our Muslim neighbours. We suggest only that Muslims, with open heart and mind, try to understand the message of the Bible as the Bible presents it, just as the Muslim would suggest that the Christian try to understand the message of the Qur’an as the Qur’an presents it.
Meanwhile, as even the Qur’an clearly attests, Jews and Christians remain People of the Scriptures, not People of the Corrupted Scriptures.
5. The Bible Prophesies the Coming of Muhammad
The following Quranic passages encourage Muslims to seek predictions of Muhammad in the Bible:
Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them ... (7:157)
And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One. (61:6)
On the basis of these Quranic passages we can appreciate the desire of Muslims to search for passages in the Bible which prophesy Muhammad's coming. However, it is difficult to appreciate their methods of interpretation whenever they force the Bible to conform to the Qur’an, whenever they ignore Biblical interpretations of the Bible, whenever they apply methods of interpretation to the Bible which they would never apply to the Qur’an, whenever their end justifies any means to attain this end. Some Muslims have selected a multitude of passages from the Bible to prove their point. Presumably, their argument might run, God has allowed Christians to corrupt their Scriptures by interpolating statements about Jesus' Sonship and cross but has blocked them from removing Biblical references to Muhammad. Otherwise it is difficult to understand their ambivalent attitude towards the Bible: The Bible now available with Christians is untrustworthy; yet this untrustworthy Bible still contains prophecies about Muhammad's coming!
Muslims appeal particularly to two portions of the Bible to substantiate their claim: The Torah, Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and the Gospel, John chapters 14-16. From the latter portion they isolate the Paraclete passages which, they say, refer to Muhammad.
In Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 God promises the Children of Israel through Moses to raise up a prophet like Moses from among the brothers of the Children of Israel. So Muslims may say: No doubt, Muhammad is like Moses. Since Ishmael is the brother of Isaac and Muhammad is descended from Ishmael, therefore Moses must be predicting the coming of Muhammad.
In response we first note that the word "brothers" most naturally refers to the Children of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 17:14, 15; 15:12; Leviticus 25:46). The Qur’an also speaks of a member of the same nation as "brother": "And unto Midian (We sent) their brother Shu'eyb." (7:85)
Even if we accept the correctness of the Muslim interpretation of "brother" here, why should Ishmael be selected rather than some other close relative of Abraham or even of Isaac or of Jacob (such as, for example, Jacob's brother Esau, from whom the Children of Edom are descended)? Why Muhammad only, if other nations also can trace their ancestry back to Abraham and if, as the Qur’an contends, God has left no nation without a prophet? In fact, Ishmael was the uncle, not the brother, of Jacob (whose other name is Israel, whence the name of the nation "the Children of Israel").
Moreover, to contend, as some Muslims have done, that Muhammad was like Moses in that both married, had children and wielded the sword is hardly convincing. This might be said of almost any prophet, even of a false prophet or even of Jesus who, according to Islamic tradition, returns to earth, marries, has children and wields a sword.
Muslim interpretation in regard to both the Deuteronomy and John passages pays little or no heed to the Biblical evidence which refers to the fulfilment of these passages. Jesus said: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me" (John 5:46). Acts 3:17-26 and 7:37 understand Jesus to be the fulfilment of the Deuteronomy verses. Likewise Acts 2 presents the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecies in regard to the Paraclete.
In the John passages under consideration the word used for "Counsellor" or "Comforter" in the original Greek text of the New Testament is parakletos. Some English translations of the Greek text preserve the same Greek word "Paraclete". However some Muslims have insisted that not parakletos but periklutos, the latter a rather rare Greek word which may be roughly translated into Arabic as ahmad or mahmud (praised), is the original word in the Greek text. No sound evidence in the New Testament manuscripts supports this Muslim assertion.
If Muhammad is the Paraclete (Counsellor, Comforter, Advocate), as some Muslims have said, is then Muhammad (as the John passages say about the Paraclete) the Spirit of truth (14:17), the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus' name (14:26), whom Jesus sends to His disciples from the Father and who proceeds from the Father (15:26)?
None of these passages from John's Gospel account suggests that Jesus' disciples were to wait some five centuries before the fulfilment of His promises. But even if we were to grant a long lapse of time, why should these predictions refer to Muhammad and not to another? Why not refer them to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as some members of the Ahmadiyya movement have applied them to their founder?
Though it is not our intention to enter into the interpretation of the Qur’an 61:6, it may be said that the word ahmad (more praised, highly praised) need not be understood as a noun or the name of a person. As a comparative form of hamid it could describe anyone.
6. The Message of Jesus Is for the Children of Israel Only
Many Muslims say that Christians have altered the original Gospel. Yet some Muslims freely cite the following passage from the Gospel accounts to support their assertion that in an absolute sense Jesus' message was solely for the Children of Israel:
Jesus answered: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24)
Presumably the intention of Muslims who cite this passage is to show that while the mission of Muhammad and the message of the Qur’an are universal, the mission of Jesus and the message of the Gospel were limited to the Children of Israel.
Christians gladly agree with Muslims that Jesus, while He was on earth, limited His ministry to the Children of Israel. But what of other passages in the Bible and the Qur’an which speak about His universal ministry?
Jesus spoke to them, saying: "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12)
... He revealed the Torah and the Gospel aforetime, for a guidance to mankind. (Qur’an 3:3-4)
And (it will be) that we may make of him (Jesus) a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. (Qur’an 19:21)
And Jesus' words to His disciples:
"You are the salt of the earth. ...
You are the light of the world ..." (Matthew 5:13-14)
And what about those passages in the Old Testament concerning the Servant of the Lord and His universal mission, passages which find their fulfilment in Jesus according to the New Testament?
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him,
he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1; cf. Matthew 12:15-21)
Do those Muslims, who seek to defend the Qur’an by selecting New Testament passages which point only to Jesus' limited ministry, offend against not only the Bible but also the Qur’an?
Moreover, if Muslims wish to be selective in regard to Biblical and Quranic references to the national limitations of Jesus and the Gospel, why not apply the same principle of selectivity in regard to the limitations of Muhammad and the Qur’an? Why not select a passage from the Qur’an which indicates that the Qur’an is in Arabic for Arabs (43:3) and ignore a passage which indicates that it is "a reminder unto the peoples" (12:104)? Or why not select a Quranic passage which says that Muhammad is only a warner (38:65) and ignore other passages that speak of him as a messenger, the seal of the prophets, etc. (33:40)? Is the "only" of the New Testament passage (Matthew 15:24) an absolute "only", while the "only" of the Qur’an is only a relative "only"? Is the New Testament really self-contradictory, while the Qur’an is only apparently self-contradictory? Are the multitude of Christians who consider themselves to be Christians really not Christians because they do not belong to the Children of Israel — including the Christian Arabs with whom Muhammad had contact, among whom was Waraqa, the cousin of Muhammad's wife Khadijah? In any case, the evidence of the Qur’an for the universality of Jesus' mission remains for those Muslims who uphold that the Qur’an is the sole criterion of truth.
Indeed the New Testament speaks about both the limitation and universality of Jesus' mission. The problem, if it is a problem, is resolved by the New Testament itself. As long as Jesus was on earth, He limited His ministry and that of His disciples to the Children of Israel. Even His help to the Gentiles served as a lesson for His own disciples (cf. Matthew 8:10). At the time of His ascension into heaven He ordered His disciples to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, 20). The Book of Acts relates how Jesus' earliest disciples began to carry out this command. Paul, following these disciples, summarizes the matter:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile, non-Jew). (Romans 1:16)
The following Quranic passage is directed against Jews and Christians in reference to their Scriptures. (The passage does not suggest the permanent textual corruption of these Scriptures.)
O People of the Scripture! Why confound ye truth with falsehood and knowingly conceal the truth? (3:71)
Jew and Christian may do well to heed this admonition, whatever value they place upon its source. But is this admonition validly applied only to Jews and Christians, only in reference to their Scriptures and only to that time when it was first addressed? Or does it have valid application beyond these dimensions: to the present as well as to the past, to the Qur’an as well as to the Scriptures of Jews and Christians, to Muslims as well as to Jews and Christians?
Any community, even in the midst of a zealous defence of its own faith, may well review its need for repentance and for God's grace to better understand its own faith and the faith of others and its own Scriptures and the Scriptures of others.
To God be the glory!